Seven-year-old Isabella Nerstad was inspired to use a lemonade stand to raise money for lung cancer research.

By Jason Duaine Hahn
July 20, 2017 04:43 PM
Credit: Courtesy Amanda Nerstad

If you need to raise money for aid, the tried-and-true method is to sell good old-fashioned lemonade.

That’s what 7-year-old Isabella Nerstad and her 4-year-old sister, Greta Nerstad, did when they helped to organize a lemonade stand last Wednesday in Knoxville, Tennessee, to benefit lung cancer research. The success of the event would exceed even the sisters’ own expectations, and it holds a special significance for them—their mother, Amanda Nerstad, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer last October at just 39 years old.

Credit: Courtesy Amanda Nerstad

The idea for the lemonade stand came up while the family picked a collection of activities to do for their “Summer Bucket List.” Isabella suggested a lemonade stand that would feature fun music kids could dance to, and they could donate the proceeds to a charity. “They said, ‘What about lung cancer?’ ” Amanda tells PEOPLE. “I was like, ‘Aww, that is so nice!”

The family chose The LUNGevity Foundation, the largest lung cancer research fundraiser in the country, as the charity the event’s proceeds would benefit. When the family told the foundation of their idea, LUNGevity made a custom sign for the event, which the girls helped to design and approve.

As the event day approached, Amanda went to work to promote it, emailing friends and fellow moms to ask for their help—and it would pay off.

“Between social media and our friends sharing about it, it just kind of grew into so much more than we ever thought it was going to be,” Amanda says.

On July 12, Isabella and Greta’s lemonade stand raised $3,179, with another $1,290 coming in from online donations, bringing the day’s total to $4,469. For the sisters—who would have been happy if the stand pulled in their original goal of $100—the event was a smashing success.

“We deposited the cash last week, wrote one big check to LUNGevity, and they got it this week,” Amanda says. “They’ve already called us and thanked us and everything, it was great.”

Amanda, who is a nonsmoker, has a rare form of non-small cell ALK-positive lung cancer from a genetic mutation. She currently takes a targeted therapy pill called Alectinib. Her last scan on June 13 was clear, but her body will one day become resistant to the treatment. A second generation of the pill is available for when that happens, but it’s essential that advancements are made in cancer research for future therapies.

“Both of my girls know that I am on a daily targeted pill that I take twice a day, and they know that the pill helps Mommy get better,” Amanda says. “They know I have lung cancer and that it’s not hereditary or contagious. They know it’s important to wash hands because Mommy gets sick easier, and I know that Mommy sometimes gets sleepy easier.”

When she was diagnosed, Amanda’s doctors told her that she would have less than a year to live. Since then, she says her faith, and good support system in her husband and two daughters, have helped to keep her going during dire times.

“I’m not giving up hope,” she says. “We just try to stay positive and live in the now, but my perspective on life has really changed. It’s just about living life now and enjoying everything it has to offer, every day.”